Category Archives: Bulbs

Harvest festival and your garden

Standard

gypsophilla

Harvest festivals are traditionally celebrated around the time of the Harvest Moon which is the full moon that occurs closest to the autumn equinox. It’s an important time in the garden as well as on the farms.

Harvest festivals are thanksgiving festivals, a way of showing gratitude to one’s God or gods for a good store of food to keep the people fed through the lean winter months. Historically, Harvest festival was also an opportunity for the Landowner to give a feast for his workers in recognition of their hard work over the growing season. The first new ale would be drunk and loaves of bread made with the freshly gathered and milled wheat.

So why is the autumn equinox important to your plants? The Harvest Moon usually falls as a full moon at the end of September, but occasionally falls at the beginning of October. It’s at this point in the year that the day and night length are equal. The plants in your garden and allotment will notice the difference as they respond to day length.

chrysanthemum

Well actually, it’s not quite that simple, not all plants decide to hibernate once the nights become longer than the days; whether we’re having an Indian Summer or an early hoar frost makes a difference too. So, without dumbing down as you’re an intelligent bunch of readers, let’s have a brief botanical explanation as to why the plants in your garden start behaving differently now we’ve reached the autumnal equinox.

It’s important for a plant’s existence that it knows not to lets its seed germinate during winter, when hard frosts would be likely to kill the emerging seedling. Nor would it be productive to flower when there are no pollinating insects around. Neither is a good plan for survival of the species! There are both internal plant factors, such as the production of particular hormones and external factors that affect plant growth. It is the two major external factors that we’re looking at, and they are, as you’ve probably guessed, light and temperature.

white tulips

Generally speaking, most plants require a certain temperature in order for the seed to germinate and for the plant to grow. Which is why many plants lie dormant or semi-dormant over the winter months. Some plant species require a period of cold to encourage germination of the seed; for example, Tulips. When these plants are grown where the winter is not cold enough, Florida for example, they can be artificially chilled so as to stimulate flowering in the spring.

Photoperiodism, or plants’ response to day length, has been constant over millennia, and it is only recently, over the past couple of hundred years or so, that humans have been successfully able to interfere with the process artificially. Flowering plants are especially sensitive to photoperiodic stimulus; for example, have you ever forced Hyacinth bulbs for Christmas by putting them in a cool dark cellar then bringing them in to the warmth and light to flower?

There are three main grouping of flowering plants in relation to day length and their growth and flowering. Assuming that the plant is sufficiently mature and ready to flower, the day length becomes crucial for many of our favourite garden flowers.

Hyacinths

Short day plants, Chrysanthemum, for example, react to the day length being shorter than a specified time; or put another way, when the hours of darkness are longer than the hours of daylight. So these plants tend to flower later in the season, during late summer and autumn.

Long day plants, such as Gypsophilla, tend to be spring and summer flowering plant; they respond to the day length being longer than a specified amount of time. However, day neutral plants, for example, Viburnum, are unaffected by the length of daylight hours and will flower when they are mature enough to do so.

So this is why the Autumn Equinox, as illuminated by the Harvest Moon, is a crucial turning point in the gardening year.

The cover illustration for our newest eBook “In Your Autumn Garden with Plews Garden Design” shows Demeter, who was the Greek goddess of the harvest and fertility and one of the aspects of the Triple Goddess, or Earth Mother, Gaia. An appropriate subject for a book about crops and harvest and food in your garden and allotment, we thought.

In Your Autumn Garden with Plews Garden Design - cover illustration by Lucy Waterfield

Advertisements

Spring flowering bulbs

Standard
bulbs laid out ready to plant

bulbs laid out ready to plant

Although it is possible to have bulbous plants flowering in your garden nearly all year, most of us in the UK and USA treat spring as the most important season for a flowering bulb display. Although they flower in the spring, these bulbs need to be planted in the autumn; so now is the time to be planning and purchasing your spring flowering bulbs.

At Plews we don’t generally plant too many bulbs at one go. Planting hundreds in one day is a chore we leave to those who have park displays to organise. However, we do offer bulb planning and planting as part of our service to regular clients, as well as part of an overall garden or planting design. Designing and planting containers whether for seasonal variation or for a special occasion is one of those tasks which is pleasant to add into a regular maintenance schedule.

Rather than dashing into spring bulb buying and then regretting the result next year, make yourself a coffee and

“Take the time to plan before you buy. Some questions you may like to ask yourself: are you planting in borders, containers, naturalising in grass? How many containers and how big are they? If in the borders, let’s be practical, consider how many bulbs you have the time to plant. Oh yes, and is there currently room in the border where you’d like to plant or do you still have late flowering Helenium and dahlias in full bloom?

Let’s find some answers. If your borders are still full and looking lovely, then congratulate yourself on a having a fine late display of colour. Make a note to look for and buy later flowering tulips and narcissus (daffodils). These could be planted when your Heleniums have gone over and still flower when they should next year. Another option is to buy the early flowering varieties you covet but plant them in pots. A further choice is to accept that they are likely to flower a bit later as you’ve planted them later.”

(Extract from Plews eBook “In Your Autumn Garden”)

Tulip 'dolls minuet'

Tulip ‘dolls minuet’

As for planting, the rule of thumb is to plant bulbs about three times as deep as the diameter of the bulb. This could be time consuming if you’re going to measure each one! The rough guide we use at Plews is that for larger bulbs, for example, Tulip, Daffodil and Hyacinth, we make a hole about 6-8” or 15-20cm deep. For smaller bulbs, for example, Crocus, Muscari, Bluebell, we make the hole about 4-5” or 10-12cm deep.

So, what are some of the more popular spring flowering bulbs? Some of Plews favourite spring flowering bulbs are:

Narcissus 'jetfire'

Narcissus ‘jetfire’

For vibrant displays:

Narcissus ‘February Gold’ and Narcissus ‘jet fire’ – a mix of to give you a brightly coloured display to liven up your mornings from February to April;

Bright red Tulip ‘Red Riding Hood’ has variegated foliage so extends the interest beyond flowering time; looks good in pots and borders.

Hyacinth 'Delft blue'

Hyacinth ‘Delft blue’

For softer shades:

Tulipa ‘dolls minuet’ has soft crimson red petals, with the subtle markings of the viridiflora tulip group;

Hyacinth ‘delft blue’ has the added pleasure of a delicate scent; plant it near a door so you can enjoy the perfume.

daffodils and pansies in patio container

daffodils and pansies in patio container

Remember to protect your bulbs once planted, so the squirrels don’t dig them up. If you’re planting in pots, we’ve found that adding shallow rooted winter bedding over the top of the spring bulbs generally works. The flowers in your winter display should keep going until your spring bulbs flower; how organised is that!

Marie Shallcross, Senior Partner, Plews Garden Design
Resolving your Gardening issues with inspirational ideas and flexible solutions

In Your Autumn Garden with Plews Garden Design - cover illustration by Lucy Waterfield

In Your Autumn Garden with Plews Garden Design – cover illustration by Lucy Waterfield

Garden Planning: Flowers for Spring Weddings and Spring Flowering Bulbs

Standard
narcissus-elka

Narcissus elka

Garden planning: in this instance, ideas for spring wedding floral displays that won’t ruin the budget and purchasing spring bulbs in the autumn. One of the aspects of garden design is to do with planning the present and future garden, and this requires you, or your garden designer, to look at your garden in a particular way.

There are the obvious garden design needs of allowing room for plants to grow but not grow over the newly laid path and patio and planning for the changing look of the garden with the different seasons. This latter is where bulbs come in…

raised curved patio with statue

raised curved patio with statue

Spring bulbs for Spring Flowers

We call them spring bulbs when we need to buy and plant them in the autumn; I’m not surprised that so many people get confused. If you think of them as ‘spring flowering bulbs’ it can help, but you still need to know that future garden planning is needed. Bulb purchasing and planting is an autumn task, but it involves thinking back to last spring and forward to next. So what can you do this spring so that you remember which bulbs to buy in the autumn? Take this opportunity to review what works and what doesn’t in your garden. Taking photos helps with the remembering process, which is why I tell my students to take photos of their own gardens on a regular basis. Jotting down the names of plants and bulbs when you’re visiting a garden or garden centre can be useful too.

daffodil-foliage-growing-through-geranium-machorrizum

daffodil foliage growing through geranium machorrizum

Planting bulbs in the border requires thought as to what else will be on show when the bulbs are flowering and also when the foliage is dying down. When designing a border to include bulbs, where the client’s brief is for easy maintenance, I need to consider the bulbs as part of a long term planting scheme, so I often plant herbaceous perennials for the bulbs to grow through. These won’t have much if any foliage when the bulbs are in flower, but will help distract the eye from the bulbs’ dying foliage.

And sometimes we get asked to plan for other events, such as weddings…

Flowers for Spring Weddings Growing your own wedding flowers obviously needs to be planned in advance and may not suit everyone for reasons of space, time or lack of knowhow. Floral displays, bouquets and buttonholes play a leading role in the decoration of a church or a wedding venue, and they can take up a large part of the budget. Two ways to reduce the budget without compromising on style are firstly to grow many or all of the flowers yourself or ask a green fingered family member to do so. Secondly, would be to use foliage and flowering plants that can be transplanted into the newlyweds’ garden after the big event; providing a living memory of the happy day and personalising their garden at the same time. Indeed, sharing the plants around the newlyweds and their parents’ gardens, would be a lovely memento for all to enjoy for years after.

ribes (flowering currant)

ribes (flowering currant)

As for some ideas for Spring wedding flowers, the following extract from “In Your Spring Garden” gives some inspiration. There are more planting and floral ideas in the eBook.

“For scent and an air of delicate romance, low hanging baskets and raised planters filled with sweet violets (viola odorata) would be lovely. A traditional Valentines’ Day flower, their heart shaped leaves are as apt on a wedding day and their ‘retro’ feel would work well with a vintage chic inspired wedding breakfast theme. As British natives that flower from mid February to May, they would be happy outside and inside, although their scent would be more noticeable in the warmth. 

If you have a marquee, you could have terracotta troughs filled with low clipped hedging of Buxus sempervirens (Box) surrounding the soft apricot tones of Narcissus ‘Replete’. Both these designs balance the femininity of the frilly, soft hued daffodils with the more formal masculinity of the clipped hedging.”

Viola-odorata

Viola-odorata

As for inspiration for spring displays, some of the Plews team is off to view a modern art exhibition – not as odd as you might think, the colour combinations can be exciting.

If you’d like a border planting design or a total re-think of your whole garden, why not get in touch?

narcissus-silver-chimes

Narcissus ‘silver chimes’

Daffodils – the Heralds of Spring in your Garden on St David’s Day

Standard
Narcisssus-crewenna

Narcisssus-crewenna

The link between March and Daffodils is of course St David’s Day. St David’s Day – or Dydd Dewi Sant in the Welsh language Cymraeg – is March 1st and Daffodils, along with leeks, are a recognisable Welsh emblem.

Although it is possible to have flowering bulbs throughout most of the year, most people tend to think of bulbs as being springtime flowers. Whether you were organised enough to plant these up in the autumn, or whether you’re planning a trip to the nursery or garden centre, there’s a lot of choice when it comes to spring bulb display.

In our last blog we looked at some of the botany about bulbs and admired some snowdrops and tulips. As it is now the beginning of March it seems appropriate to look at some planting ideas for Narcissus, which are also known as Daffodils.

Some planting ideas for Narcissi

The following extract is my contribution to an article on Narcissi collated and written by Vanessa Berridge for the March issue of Homes and Gardens magazine and including suggestions from Matthew Biggs and Christine Skelmersdale, whose Broadleigh Bulbs’ display I enjoyed at the recent RHS Plant and Design Show.

“Marie Shallcross of Plews Garden Design recommends pots of scented narcissi by the garden door or on a balcony, containing the fragrant pheasant-eye daffodil, Narcissus poeticus planted with Narcissus jetfire or Narcissus pinza”

Homes-and-Gardens-March-2013-Daffodils-Matthew-Biggs-Marie-Shallcross-Christine-Skelmersdale

Homes-and-Gardens-March-2013-Daffodils-Matthew-Biggs-Marie-Shallcross-Christine-Skelmersdale

 

 

 

Homes-and-Gardens-magazine-March-2013-cover

Homes-and-Gardens-magazine-March-2013-cover

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Both Narcissus jetfire and Narcissus pinza add a splash of colour to brighten dull days.  Narcissus poeticus ‘actea’ has a totally wonderful scent but is one of the more toxic daffodils so do be sure not to eat it by mistake!

Narcissus 'jetfire'

Narcissus ‘jetfire’

I like to mix the jonquilla and cyclamineus Narcissi for the contrast in form they offer. Narcissus jonquilla are like a smaller version of the familiar trumpet daffodils, whilst the cyclamineus, as you can see from the photo, sweep their petals back like an Olympic swimmer at the starting block. They offer an overall delicate feel that works well in small areas. This could be in a raised bed next to a formal terrace with lawn beyond (the green is a good back drop); or alongside a flight of steps.

Narcissus-cyclamineus

Narcissus-cyclamineus

Many town front gardens are not only small in themselves, but planting has to fight for space with car parking and recycle boxes.  We have made green roofs or raised beds as covers for the recycling and bins and filled them with saxifrage and dwarf narcissi; Narcissus ’ canaliculatus’ is attractive because of its multi flowered stems; and it’s scented too so with the flowers nearer nose height it maximises the enjoyment.

Narcissus canalucutatus in a raised bed

Narcissus canalucutatus in a raised bed

Daffodils, Leeks and St David’s Day

It would seem that the Daffodil was encouraged as an alternative Welsh emblem to the leek so that the Welsh were discouraged from remembering their past victories over the English in battle. St David, or so we are told, suggested that the Welsh army wear a leek on their shoulder into battle not so much for a packed lunch but so that they could recognise friend from foe in the heat of the mêlée. The wearing of a badge or token into battle so that you knew who your mates were, was common, so the story has a factual basis. Not that daffodils have made the Welsh forget their victories – they’ve just written stories about the English attempt to make them forget…and laughed at the naivety of the Sais (English); such is the way of all “conquered races”.

Leeks grow well in the Welsh climate; they’ll stand in the ground all winter until they’re needed for dinner. A member of the onion family, leeks are distinguished by their long white stalk. The white section has a milder flavour than the green; this is encouraged during the leek’s growth by covering the stem, with soil or with a tube to protect it from the sunlight. This blanches the stem, reducing the amount of chlorophyll (this is basically what makes the green part of the plant green) and making the stem easier for humans to eat.

Welsh-Leeks

Welsh-Leeks

However, do not get your daffodil bulbs muddled up with your onions. Narcissus are toxic, bulb, flower and leaf but especially the bulb will give you severe stomach cramps and possibly convulsions. Not generally fatal, narcissus bulbs did however cause the death of Dutch cattle during World War 2, when the livestock were fed them on account of there not being any other food available.

For more on Spring bulbs and Spring Gardens, why not have a look at our new eBook   “In Your Spring Garden” ?

In Your Spring Garden with Plews Garden Design - cover illustration by Lucy Waterfield

In Your Spring Garden with Plews Garden Design – cover illustration by Lucy Waterfield

Vodka drinking Tulips and heroic Snowdrops

Standard
Snowdrops (Galanthus) and Daffodils (Narcissus)

Galanthus-and-Narcissus

Or how the bulb kept its secret in your garden all winter.

Unless, of course, the bulb in question is a corm, or a rhizome or a tuber (not the wind instrument, that’s a tuba). What is the difference? An extract from our new eBook “In Your Spring Garden” may help explain…

“A bit of botany about bulbs

Some of the flowers we think of as growing from bulbs are in fact from corms or tubers. Although these are fundamentally the same, in the sense of being a storage depot where the plant keeps it resources in order to flower the following year, there are differences. Bulbs and corms are stems, whereas just to confuse you, some tubers are stems, such as begonias, and others, dahlias for example, are roots.

Bulbs have a swollen compact stem with fleshy leaves attached to it; daffodils (narcissi) tulips and the onion family are all bulbs. New bulbs are formed from buds between the leaves of the parent bulb, which itself will last many years. These small bulbs can be separated from the parent and planted separately, its best to take ones with roots buds showing at the base to be sure of their growing on. Corms have a short swollen stem in which the food is stored; this is covered by old dead foliage. New corms are formed on top of the old one which will eventually wither away. Crocus and gladiolus are corms.

Stem tubers such as begonias and cyclamen, are long lived or perennial; although not all stem tubers are. Their tubers have developed from the ends of rhizomes, which are underground stems; hence stem tubers. Dahlias and some day lilies (Hemerocallis) are root tubers.”

Snowdrop (Galanthus) 'Wendys-gold'

Galanthus-plicatus-wendys-gold

Hopefully that’s clarified the main differences between bulbs, corms, tubers and rhizomes for you. As a side note, some plants, water lilies for example, only have rhizomes; that is they don’t have ‘true stems’ above ground. Or in the water lily’s case, above water. Seriously though, have a look at a water lily next time you get the chance, the only stems are under water, ie beneath the surface, all you see ‘above’ are foliage and flowers.

Snowdrops (Galanthus) and Tulips are both bulbous plants, as are Daffodils (Narcissus) and Hyacinths. All of these are well known spring flowering flowers. Hyacinths may be ‘forced’ that is specially prepared to flower for Christmas, but naturally they would flower outside in April and May. Snowdrops flower from January through to the end of March; Daffodils flower from February to April and Tulips from late March to late May. The dates do vary with where you are (local and regional weather and micro climate) and how long the bulbs have been in the ground (did you plant them late for example).

Snowdrop (Galanthus) 'Robin Hood'

Galanthus-Robin-Hood

So what about those heroic Snowdrops I mentioned? Galanthus nivalis ‘Robin Hood’ is the snowdrop in question and I was busy admiring it again at the RHS Plant and Design Show in London this week. First mentioned as a snowdrop variety in 1891, Galanthus ‘Robin Hood’ has markings on the inner flower that look like crossed sabres, which is arguably a disappointment, I feel the markings should look like a bow and arrow. But I am fond of this particular snowdrop nonetheless.

The Horticultural Halls were full with many different plants, but I always see the Snowdrops and Daffodils as the undisputed stars of the show – they are at their prime. And it’s when you view snowdrops that are at table height that you begin to realise that not only are their flowers beautifully marked with green and yellow and cream, but that many also have a delicate scent that would be totally lost if you only planted in the flower borders in your garden.

Tulip 'smirnoff'

Tulip ‘smirnoff’

And the vodka drinking tulip? An attractive white flower with fringed petals Tulip ‘smirnoff’; although I’m not sure that its cup shaped flowers would work as a shot glass, it is a very attractive plant.

Seasonal offer:
Our eBook “In Your Winter Garden with Plews Garden Design” has been drastically reduced in price as “In Your Spring Garden with Plews Garden Design” is due for release next week.
Available in formats for PC, Kindle and iPad from Amazon and Smashwords

Jack Frost and Plews

cover illustration “In Your Winter Garden with Plews Garden Design” by Lucy Waterfield

Winter Garden visits: Chartwell

Standard

Chartwell-garden-seatIt is difficult to fit in essential tasks when a garden is open to the public all year; even mowing the croquet lawn can be tricky; mowing a visitor by mistake wouldn’t do. Many chores are left to the winter for good reason – because they’re time consuming or messy. But whilst cleaning pots is easy to achieve regardless of visitors, relaying paths and swathes of turf requires areas to be fenced off so that garden visitors don’t tread on newly laid paving by mistake.

I kept forgetting that Chartwell, home of Winston Churchill had changed its opening hours so the gardens are now open all year. Typically, I chose a freezing cold afternoon with snow on the ground to visit. The positive side was that I had the gardens virtually to myself; even the staff had the sense to find indoor tasks.DSC05416

The name “Chartwell” comes from the well on the estate and ‘chart’ meaning ‘rough ground’ in Old English. The gardens are grade II listed, meaning they are of historical importance. This doesn’t mean they are locked into a time warp; the gardening team create and maintain interesting displays throughout the gardens. They have risen to the challenge of accommodating visitors all year round; visitors who, if a garden is open to the public during the winter, expect that there something worth seeing.

Visiting a garden in winter shows a whole new perspective on a familiar landscape. I was accompanied for some of the time by Franklin,  one of the resident cats; he posed beautifully in the rose garden, a fluffy blackness against the white snow and the formally pruned rose bushes. Churchill insisted that there was always a marmalade cat with white socks called Jock at Chartwell, but he was obviously inside in the warm when I visited (probably on his Facebook page – do you think he ‘likes’ ours?).Franklin-in-winter-rose-garden

Naturally my main focus was the winter border as I had been promised some delights of scent and colour by one of the gardeners.On the way I took in the orchard with its winter pruned apple trees, including Malus domestica ‘Newton’s wonder’. This is not, as you might think, an offspring of the famous tree that dropped an apple on Isaac Newton’s head so he discovered the laws of gravity. That was Malus ‘Flower of Kent’. ‘Newton’s wonder’ is a culinary apple, a nineteenth century cultivar like the popular ‘Bramley’, but sweeter in taste.Malus-'Newtons-wonder'

The Sarcoccca confusa or sweet box, sits lushly by the gate to the vegetable garden at the lower end of the winter border. Normally packing a wow of scent even in winter, it was struggling a little due to the extreme cold and lack of sun, but a closer sniff proved it was still in business. The sloping border offered colourful Cornus (dogwood) with lime green stems contrasting with the red brick wall. This shrub proves its worth time and again as winter interest and can easily be accommodated in smaller gardens and borders. Pruning the stems in March frees up space for summer herbaceous flowers to grow in front; with the advantage of colourful fresh young Cornus stems to delight the eye the following winter.

Closer to the ground I admired the snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis) braving the snow. I liked the pairing of these with Ophiopogon planiscapus nigrescens (black grass). Not all was monotone; the Winter Aconite (Eranthis hyemalis) has a yellow flower that perversely I find more attractive closed rather than open. The Corsican Hellebore (Hellleborus argutifolius) added some texture to the border, and complimented the green foliage of those bulbs that were poking through the snow. I do love Hellebores; I feel a trip to the national collections at Broadview Gardens and Hazles Cross Farm may be in order soon…snowdrops-in-the-snow

At the top of the sloping winter border I was rewarded with the gorgeously scented Daphne bholua. The scent admired, and having reached a high point of the garden I thought I might briefly sit and enjoy the views that tempted Churchill into buying this estate. On seeing the seat though, I changed my mind; stood a while admiring the landscape, then headed off for the warm, well pleased with my snowy garden visit. I’ve now started to follow the Chartwell garden blog – a good way of keeping up between visits.

Seasonal offer: 

Our eBook “In Your Winter Garden with Plews Garden Design” has been drastically reduced in price as “In Your Spring Garden with Plews Garden Design” is due for release in about a week.
Available in formats for PC, Kindle and iPad from Amazon and Smashwords

Daphne-bholua

Spring into bulb buying

Standard

ImageBulb purchasing and planting is an autumn task, but it involves thinking back to last spring and forward to next. A lot of gardening and garden design, if not most, is about planning the future and bulbs epitomise that aspect of gardening.

So, when faced with packets of bulbs with a close up picture of a tulip on the front what are you thinking? When flicking through bulb catalogues, what are you planning? Unless you have a large garden or lots of different areas to fill with bulbs, your main thought is probably how many spring flowering bulbs can you fit into your pots and borders. Or it should be. Be tempted by colour and from when you know how many you need.

Take the time before you buy to plan. Some questions you may like to ask yourself: are you planting in borders, containers, naturalising in grass? How many containers and how big are they? If in the borders, let’s be practical, consider how many bulbs you have the time to plant. Oh yes, and is there currently room in the border where you’d like to plant or do you still have late flowering Helenium and dahlias in full bloom?

Let’s find some answers. If your borders are still full and looking lovely, then congratulate yourself on a having a fine late display of colour. Make a note to look for and buy later flowering tulips and narcissus (daffodils). These could be planted when your Heleniums have gone over and still flower when they should next year. Another option is to buy the early flowering varieties you covet but plant them in pots. A further choice is to accept that they are likely to flower a bit later as you’ve planted them later.

At Plews we don’t generally plant too many bulbs at one go. Planting hundreds in one day is a chore we leave to friends who work in National Trust gardens. However, we do offer bulb planning and planting as part of our service to regular clients, as well as part of an overall design. Designing and planting containers whether for seasonal variation or a special occasion is one of those tasks which is pleasant to add into a regular routine maintenance schedule.

Planting bulbs in the border requires thought as to what else will be on show at that time of year when the bulbs are flowering and also when the foliage is dying down. When designing a border to include bulbs, where the client’s brief is for easy maintenance, the bulbs are part of a long term planting scheme, so we will often plant herbaceous perennials for the bulbs to grow through. These won’t have much if any foliage the bulbs are in flower, but will help distract the eye from the bulbs’ foliage after flowering. They will live quite happily together for some years.Image

Alternatively, the bulbs can be treated as annuals, and dug up after flowering and composted if virus free. Where the space utilised is edged or framed with evergreens this is a good, if more labour intensive option. Hardy and half hardy annuals can fill the same space as the bulbs but at a later time.

Thinking back to the previous spring; this is an opportunity to review what worked and what didn’t in your garden. Taking photos helps with the process, which is why I tell my students to take photos of their own gardens on a regular basis. Perhaps you visited gardens in the spring and were inspired by their bulb displays, or combinations of colours? Much of that can be tweaked to fit your own garden.

ImageRemember to protect your bulbs once planted, so the squirrels or neighbourhood cats don’t dig them up.

If you’d like to know more about our design, maintenance or teaching services, why not get in touch?

Plants that tell the time

Standard

Mirabilis jalapa

Or should that be “Plants that tell the ‘thyme’”?

The Victorians loved their bedding plants, and parks and private gardens would have intricate designs made from flowers; including clocks and the royal coat of arms. But this blog isn’t about flowers displayed as a giant timepiece in your garden, although that would make an interesting change in a front garden.

In fact, in some ways it’s a misnomer, as all plants can tell the time; possibly better than many of us with our dependence on watches and mobiles for alarms to wake us up. Perhaps we should be using a dandelion clock? Not quite, blowing the seeds off a dandelion head is more accurate for increasing the spread of the dandelion than telling the correct time by the number of puffs it takes.

So when your dahlias start waking up an hour before the sun rises – everyday they’re in bloom, regular as clockwork – and you struggle with the snooze button…how do they do it? Quite clever really, there’s a pigment in the plant that reacts to the increase or decrease in the amount of daylight; well to be more precise, the lack of light or darkness of night. This enables plants to open their petals at sunrise and close them at sunset. It is also part of the system whereby plants live their lives; knowing when seeds need to germinate and when leaves should fall.

Some flowers are really accurate in their sun watching. Sunflowers track the course of the sun as it moves across the sky, turning those beautiful heavy heads of yellow to mirror the golden sun. There are many plants and flowers which seem to have a favourite time of day to open their blooms or close their leaves. A favourite of mine is the ‘Four o’clock plant’ or Mirabilis jalapa. This beauty has fragrant flowers in the evening, and can be grown as an annual or a tuberous perennial (like dahlias). It is a stunner at this time of year in particular, cheerfully throwing out petals of yellow, pink and cream all blending together on the same plant and even on the same flower.

Mirabilis jalapa also known as ‘Pride of Peru’ opens its flowers in the late afternoon – hence ‘four o’clock plant’. It was introduced into Britain around 1633 by John Tradescant the Younger and has been around ever since, although subject as many plants have been, to the vagaries of fashion. The Tradescants, father and son, were instrumental in discovering many plants from the Americas – the brave new world – and bringing them back to the homeland. As early plant hunters in the Americas, Russia and North Africa we owe many plants in our gardens to their discoveries. We also owe thanks to the gardeners and botanists who took the seeds and plants and grew or tried to grow these strange herbs and trees in their own gardens and estates.

The botanist John Gerard was said to have grown the ‘four o’clock plant’ in his London garden. However, this might have been a different member of the mirabilis family as Gerard died in 1612. Of course the Spanish had been to Mexico and Peru  in the late sixteenth century and could well have returned with some seeds, which, courtesy of Drake and the other English privateers of Elizabeth Tudor’s reign , could have found their way into English gardens.

One last note about those ‘Pride of Peru’ seeds: black and hard coated they are poisonous, so don’t mistake them for seeds of the onion family. Store them in a safe place and sprinkle around in spring and you will have your scented, colourful timepiece in the garden. As for thyme, planted with the ‘four o’clock plant’, it would add a decorative and evergreen contrast.

For planting ideas or a re-design of your garden, why not drop us an email to talk about it?